The Theology of Baptism in T. F. Torrance and its Ascetic Correlate in St. Mark the Monk


Alexis Torrance, "The Theology of Baptism in T. F. Torrance and its Ascetic Correlate in St. Mark the Monk," Participatio 4, "T. F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy" (2013): 147-161


Torrance, Alexis. "The Theology of Baptism in T. F. Torrance and its Ascetic Correlate in St. Mark the Monk." Participatio 4, "T. F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy" (2013): 147-161

Publication life cycle / General notes

"I would like to thank Matthew Baker for his invaluable help in the preparation of this article. I should also point out that, despite my name and my patristic sympathies, I am no immediate relation of the Torrance theological dynasty."


Among the chief assets of the theology of T. F. Torrance is his constant emphasis on the centrality of Christ, in particular the historical humanity of Christ. For Torrance, the historic man Jesus Christ serves as the basic axis around which all other Christian concepts revolve, not least of which is the sacrament of baptism. In what follows, Torrance’s understanding of baptism will be briefly unpacked, taking note of its unflinching Christocentrism and its emphasis on Christ’s baptism as the vicarious baptism of all human nature, into which the faithful are engrafted in their own baptism of water and the Spirit. Having explored some of the nuances of Torrance’s view of baptism, the paper will turn to another rich theology of baptism, namely that of the fifth century Greek ascetic St. Mark the Monk. Some striking similarities will be underlined, particularly in the common emphasis on the vicarious work of Christ bequeathed to the faithful in baptism. However, it will be argued that despite convergence on the centrality of Christ in baptism, the implications of this Christocentrism are worked out quite differently in their respective thought. While for Torrance the vicariousness of Christ’s baptism renders the Church and her members an altogether passive recipient of his gift, St. Mark challenges such a tendency by repeatedly linking the gift of baptism with the possibility of active, even necessary, fulllment of the commandments of Christ among the faithful. Torrance’s thought does not appear to forbid such an emphasis, but it is not an emphasis he shares, at least in his work on baptism. Moreover, by creating dichotomies between understanding baptism as objective or subjective (with a distinct preference for “objective”), or as being either Christocentric or mystical, Torrance’s approach gives rise to further difficulties when confronted with the theology of St. Mark which refuses to make such black and white distinctions. In the end, the theology of baptism in Torrance offers a refreshing and vigorously Christocentric vision, but it is one that comes over as incomplete, lacking as it does any explicit ascetic dimension. St. Mark offers the same Christocentrism, but one which flows naturally into the active Christian life. It will be suggested in conclusion, however, that turning to other works in the Torrance canon that do not treat the theology of baptism directly, Theological Science in particular, a sense of active obedience and conformity to the Word of God in Christian life is discussed in remarkably similar ways to St. Mark. Torrance thereby provides a means to nuance his own understanding of baptism and active Christian life, even if the two elements of his thought are not explicitly connected in his works.

T. F. Torrance and Eastern Orthodoxy